Friday, February 23, 2007

Cluster Munitions Ban Moves Ahead -- Unexpectedly

An unexpectedly strong 46 nations – nearly a quarter of all the countries on the globe – agreed at the end of a two-day gathering in Oslo, Norway, to push ahead with an international Treaty that bans the manufacture, stockpiling, transfer, or use of cluster munitions such as those used by Israel and Hezbollah in the 33-day war in July-August 2006. Both a target date for completing the treaty – 2008 – and – and a schedule of three working meetings between now and early 2008, were agreed at the Oslo gathering of 49 countries.

Cluster munitions are bomblets encased in a large carrying container dropped by aircraft or fired by long range artillery. At a preset altitude the container opens, spilling the bomblets in a pattern that is often compared to landmine fields. The most modern cluster munitions can be targeted against armored vehicles as well as troop carriers or unprotected infantry. Each bomblet has a timer or other control that is supposed to detonate or otherwise render inactive any bomblet that has not exploded after the predesignated time period – usually hours or days – has passed.

The problem is with that “supposed.” Older munitions had dud (unexploded or active) rates of 20 to 40 percent, and even the most recently produced munitions could have a one-to-two percent dud rate, potentially as many as 40 to 60 bomblets that malfunction and effectively became landmines waiting for a child, a farmer, an animal to disturb them, causing explosions that more often than not are fatal.

As in 1996, when many governments refused to step forward and lead the drive to develop an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, non-governmental organizations provided significant support to the few countries willing to press for the ban. Meeting in Ottawa, representatives from more than 50 governments were jolted when Canada called for a treaty banning all anti-personnel mines. Over the next 12 months, Austria, Germany, Belgium, and Norway hosted meetings at which details of the comprehensive ban were developed. When the September meeting in Oslo ended, eighty-nine countries pledged to support the draft document when it was opened for signing in December 1997 in Ottawa. In less than two years enough governments had ratified the treaty to make it “effective.” By January 2007, more than 150 countries had ratified or signed the treaty.

The 2007 Oslo meeting attracted 49 countries, of whom 46 signed the following declaration detailing their goal and a time frame to complete and open for signature an international treaty affecting cluster munitions.
Declaration by the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions, 22-23 February 2007

A group of States, United Nations Organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Cluster Munitions Coalition and other humanitarian organisations met in Oslo on 22 – 23 February 2007 to discuss how to effectively address the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions.

Recognising the grave consequences caused by the use of cluster munitions and the need for immediate action, states commit themselves to:

1. Conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument that will:

(i) prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and

(ii) establish a framework for cooperation and assistance that ensures adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and their communities, clearance of contaminated areas, risk education and destruction of stockpiles of prohibited cluster munitions.

2. Consider taking steps at the national level to address these problems.

3. Continue to address the humanitarian challenges posed by cluster munitions within the framework of international humanitarian law and in all relevant fora.

4. Meet again to continue their work, including in Lima in May/June and Vienna in November/December 2007, and in Dublin in early 2008, and welcome the announcement of Belgium to organise a regional meeting.

Now the real work begins.

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